Music Reviews By David Faris, Skizz Cyzyk & Mike White. Richard Cheese Tuxicity / Lounge Against the Machine / I’d Like A Virgin Years ago I picked up Black Velvet Flag’s Come Recline album only to be disappointed by their concept of mixing lounge music with punk rock tunes like "Wasted," "Institutionalized," "No Values," et cetera...
Richard CheeseTuxicity / Lounge Against the Machine / I’d Like A Virgin
Years ago I picked up Black Velvet Flag’s Come Recline album only to be disappointed by their concept of mixing lounge music with punk rock tunes like "Wasted," "Institutionalized," "No Values," et cetera. Too often bands bind their hands by choosing to limit themselves to a particular genre or artist. Luckily, no one is safe from Richard Cheese. The notion of cross-genre pollination is nothing new but it takes a few elements to do it right: well-orchestrated music, a singer with a good set of pipes, and inspired material. Cheese has these in spades.
Over the course of three albums Cheese has tackled everyone from Mystikal to Radiohead to Sir Mix-A-Lot. Cheese does an especially great job of deflating self-important songs such as "Last Resort" by Papa Roach, "Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed or, best of all, "Chop Suey" by System of a Down. Avoiding commercial radio like the plague, I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with more than half of the tunes that Cheese has covered but his versions have made me want to hear the originals to further appreciate his refined work.
If I have one complaint about Cheese’s work it’s that his CDs are too short. Despite the plentiful amount of tunes on each disc, they each contain a few "filler" tracks and, when stripped of those, they run an average of 30 minutes. Regardless, each disc packs a punch and I recommend them all. Here’s hoping that his next release contains covers of Ministry’s "Stigmata" and Filter’s "Hey Man, Nice Shot!"MW (iloverichardcheese.com)
The White StripesRedd Blood Cells
As far removed from an "official release" as one can get, Redd Blood Cells is the retooling of the Detroit-based duo The White Stripes’s album White Blood Cells courtesy of Redd Kross’s Steven McDonald. Rather than covering The White Stripes, McDonald used his technical know-how and immense musical skills to build upon the original White Stripes release; adding rich harmonies, driving bass lines, and a richness not heard in White Blood Cells. Going from repeated listenings of Redd Blood Cells back to the source material makes White Blood Cells sound like a demo tape recorded in someone’s kitchen. I can say without hesitation that White Blood Cells was made better by the borrower and that Redd is the superior work. MW (reddkross.com)
The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow PlayersSeattle Slideshow Vol. 1
A high art concept packaged as a low brow experience, the Trachenburg family-daddy Jason, momma Tina, and daughter Rachel-play songs composed specifically for slides found at estate sales and other sordid locales. While Tina runs the slide projector, Jason (on guitar or keyboard) and Rachel (on drums) kick out the clever and catchy tunes with titles like "European Boys," "Eggs," and "Mountain Trip to Japan, 1959." While this may not sound like something that can be enjoyed without benefit of visual aids, Seattle Slideshow Vol. 1 stands on its own merits as a fully-enjoyable album. If anything, the CD without the live performance might be a good thing as-after seeing them perform twice-I got a bit tired of Jason Trachtenburg’s schtick.MW (slideshowplayers.com)
Various ArtistsK-BILLY Super Sounds of the ’70s.
Wow. Someone had too much time on their hands when they created this bootleg compilation CD. Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs will remember the fictional KBLY radio station that plays throughout the film, most notably in the torture scene of policeman Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz). The soundtrack CD for Reservoir Dogs featured clips of Steven Wright as KBLY’s deadpan DJ back announcing a host of songs not actually present on the album such as "Le Freak" by Chic, "Doesn’t Somebody Want to be Wanted" by the Partridge Family, and "The World is a Ghetto" by War. You’ll find all of those tunes and other ’70s songs featured in Tarantino’s films like "Jungle Fever" by Kool & The Gang (Pulp Fiction), "Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" by the Delfonics (Jackie Brown), and even Vickie Lawrence doing "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (a topic of conversation in Reservoir Dogs).
Additionally, there are a few songs that haven’t been in Tarantino films but would fit right in such as The Jimmy Castor Bunch’s "Bertha Butt Boogie" and "My Baby Loves Lovin’" by White Plains. In all this is 78 minutes of pure musical satisfaction. The disc is a loving tribute to Reservoir Dogs while standing on its own merits as an outstanding collection. I found this on ebaysafe haven for bootleggers who can provide good looking cover art and claim that their items are "Dutch imports." MW
Jon & Al KaplanSilence! The Musical
Perhaps only outdone by the true-life musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie, this soundtrack for the bogus all-singing/all-dancing version of Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is a hilarious mismatch of genres. Beautifully orchestrated and lushly produced, Silence! The Musical is a wonderfully realized twenty minute retelling of Clarice Starling’s serial killer adventures. With infectiously catchy tunes like "Are You about a Size 14?", "Put the Fucking Lotion in the Basket," and "We’re Goin’ In," brothers Jon & Al Kaplan have culled some of the film’s most memorable lines and worked them will into the rich tapestry of this hilarious send up of both Lambs and the musical form.MW (silencethemusical.com)
Tijuana BiblesCustom Made
This Toronto-based motley crew appear on stage wearing Mexican wrestling masks (akin to U.S. surf-instrumentalists Los Straightjackets), and sport monikers including The Crippler (vocals), Blue Demon (Bass), and La Felina Negra (Sax, percussion). They’ve also been known to have burlesque dancers in grass skirts, men in gorilla suits, and projections of old nudie films as part of the action. But if you can’t catch their stellar live show, their CDs are the next best thing, and while it may have been a formidable task to follow up their debut, "Apartment Wrestling" (which featured such classics as "Gorilla Stomp," "It’s Gamera!," and the Ramones-fueled "Rock ‘n’ Roll Fighting"), the Bibles are back and ready to rumble. Custom Made is a no-nonsense 8-song joyride that clocks in at just over 20 minutes, grabbing you in a headlock and making you beg for mercy while banging your head to the infectious punky rockers within. Playing like the soundtrack to a lost ’60s exploitation film, Custom Made is a rush of steamy, down and dirty garage surf punk, hard-hitting anthems for alleyway knife fights, drag races, and naughty strip-tease acts. With tracks like "Catfight," "Operation: Hot Pants," the Link-Wray-meets-Chuck-Berry-at-Ramones-tempo "Showdown," and "Big Belt Buckle" (with the refrain "I’ve got a big belt buckle"), you know you’re in for thrills, chills, and spills. I hope that Custom Made is playing in Tura Satana’s home stereo! Also available on sturdy 10" vinyl, for you old school types. DF (Tear It Up Records, www.tijuanabibles.com)
Jon LangfordAll the Fame Of Lofty Deeds
Jon Langford, frontman for legendary British band, The Mekons, continues his exploration of American country music. Fans of the Mekons will think that this sounds like a Mekons country record. Others will notice how interesting it is to hear a Brit singing traditionally American roots music. Just like Langford’s previous collaboration with The Sadies, this album works. He covers heartbreaking ballads, honky-tonk drinking songs, porch-jamming bluegrass, driving songs and does it all with an honest style that makes Langford an artist worth paying attention to. SC (Bloodshot Records www.bloodshotrecords.com)
I found out about this band by mistake. I went to see Apples In Stereo, and Apollo Sunshine was the second opening band. I knew nothing about them, but before they started playing, I had already made up my mind I didn’t like them. It took them forever to set up, mostly because they had so much equipment (vibes, pedal steel, double-neck guitars, ukuleles, plus strobe lights, a video projector & screen), leading me to suspect that they were spoiled rich kids who were about to bore me with a self-indulgent set of crap. Boy was I wrong! I loved their set! They rocked and their stage gimmicks worked. Very entertaining. So I bought their CD. Katonah is a wild mixture of sounds. The electro-psychedelia of The Flaming Lips, the clever riffs of Guided By Voices, the pop sensibilities of Sloan, and the occasional art-rock reference (mostly Emerson, Lake & Palmer) are all rolled into a modern day Pet Sounds. Catchy, quirky, fun and different. The CD comes with a bunch of bonus stuff to watch on your computer too. These guys are full of clever ideas, and despite being grade-B singers, they know how to write a good melody and make it better with vocal harmonies. SC (spinART records, www.spinartrecords.com)
Various ArtistsThis One’s For The Fellows
The Young Fresh Fellows are one of those bands that have been around forever (well, early ’80s at least) and have inspired a lot of other bands, but have never achieved the commercial success they deserve (well, at least not in the United States. Spain knows a good thing though). Even with main Fellow, Scott McCaughey, becoming a permanent back-up member of R.E.M., and having his and Peter Buck’s side project, Minus 5, record an album with Wilco hasn’t brought the Young Fresh Fellows to the attention of the masses. Now Blue Disguise Records has put together a CD featuring 21 bands paying tribute to the Young Fresh Fellows. Overall, it’s a fun album, opening with a 1-2-3 punch of the Presidents of the United States of America, The Silos, and Eric Kassel all turning in well-done covers of earlier Fellows tunes. Sadley, it’s Robyn Hitchcock who turns in the first dud, with an uninspired, unplugged medley of two songs from Because We Hate You (the most recent YFF CD, which the band promoted by touring as the opening band for Hitchcock’s reformed Softboys). Besides making a lot of punky, garage-y, and poppy music, the Fellows also made a lot of alt-country music long before the term became a musical movement. As a result, this disc has no shortage of modern alt-country, which is a good or bad thing, depending on how much you can stand alt-country. Either way, hearing good songs played differently from their original versions, to me, is one of the purposes of a tribute album. Therefore, I don’t mind most of the alt-country bands on this disc. Some, however, need to be slapped silly. A band called I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch In The House turns in a dumb, redneck-y version of "Hillbilly Drummer Girl" that’s simply annoying considering how good the Fellows’s version is (imagine a singer too concerned with sounding tough to bother singing a melody). But plenty of bands make up for the duds, including The Makers, The Groovie Ghoulies, Visqueen, Comb*Over, The Maroons with Steve Malkmus, and Carla Torgenson & Amy Stolzenbach. Out of 21 tracks, there are only a few I don’t want to ever hear again, several I don’t mind, and many that I absolutely love. SC (Blue Disguise Records, www.bluedisguise.com)
Slow Jets RemainIn Ether
I’m not sure how to describe this album. It kind of reminds me of good art-school punk, except made by musicians more seriously interested in making interesting music than with simply being in a band because they can. There’s no screaming or harsh, discordant guitar chords. The melodies and riffs sound crafted with thought, as opposed to throwing ideas at the wall during band rehearsal and seeing what sticks. The Slow Jets’s music is not stuck to a traditional 4/4 beat, but at the same time, neither is it a confusing display of over-rehearsed flashiness. It sounds very natural. I hear things on this record that remind me of Tom Verlaine, Brian Eno, The Feelies, The Fall, The Softboys, Dream Syndicate, Wilco and XTC, yet nothing on here necessarily sounds like any of those bands. This band is either 15 years too late, or way ahead of their time. Either way, I like what they’re doing. SC (Morphius Records, www.morphius.com)
David Sylvian has spent the past few years revisiting his back catalogue, as his contract with Virgin Records comes to a close. 2000 saw the release of his retrospective/rarities double-CD Everything and Nothing, a collection of vocal tracks. Camphor is a companion collection of mostly instrumental material, spanning the near 20-year period since Sylvian left the group Japan. Sylvian’s instrumental work is astonishing in its scope, and impressive in its strength. The music ranges from jazz to ambient, melding world music instrumentation, electronic textures and effects, beautiful guitar work, and a healthy dose of experimentation into extraordinary compositions. Camphor encompasses work from both Sylvian solo albums and collaborative projects, including his work with Robert Fripp, his collaboration with ex-Japan band mates under the name Rain Tree Crow, and his minimalist soundscapes recorded with ex-Can alumni Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit. The collection works remarkably well on one CD, moving through a variety of moods and styles, and offering alternate takes on familiar Sylvian material, including a wonderful remix of "Mother and Child," which replaces Sylvian’s vocal melody with trumpet, and an instrumental mix of "Wave." Opening track "All of My Mother’s Names" is also outstanding, with free-jazz drumming, jagged guitar squals, Indian percussion, keyboard swells, and shortwave static; it wouldn’t be out of place on one of Miles Davis’s groundbreaking early ’70s albums. The initial pressing of Camphor comes with a bonus disc of Sylvian/Czukay material, which I would recommend hunting down to make this collection complete. DF (Virgin Records)
Primal ScreamEvil Heat
Primal Scream’s latest installment of drug-addled electro-rock is a colourful but perplexing affair that should be better than it is. Following on the heels of two excellent albums, 2000’s riotous, propulsive call to arms "Exterminator," and 1997’s captivating, dub-inspired mood-piece "Vanishing Point," Evil Heat lacks the potency, urgency, excitement and menace of it’s predecessors. The stylistic experimentation and unpredictable musical shifts inherent in all of Primal Scream’s albums is a strong component again in Evil Heat. This time around, Bobby Gillespie and pals are flirting with the whole retro-electronica sound that’s been championed by the already stale "electro-clash" movement. The results are rudimentary drum machine/electronic bass-line/vocal tracks like "Miss Lucifer" (sounding every bit like a cast-off Nitzer Ebb or Suicide track), "Detroit" (DAF-inspired, with vocals by ex-Jesus and Mary Chain bandmate Jim Reid), and "Some Velvet Morning" (with celeb Kate Moss on vocals). While not as obviously bandwagon-jumping as Madonna’s recent robotic James Bond theme, these tracks lack the complexity and drive that the Scream are capable of. The usual MC5/Stooges rebel rockers are present in "City" and "Skull X," and "The Lord is My Shotgun" features Gillespie’s Lennon-esque vocals over a psychotic, rhythmic backing, with a blistering harmonica solo by Robert Plant. The highlights of the album for me are the Two Lone Swordsmen-produced tracks "Autobahn 66" and "A Scanner Darkly," trance-y and intoxicating dreamy electronic journeys that recall Neu, Kraftwerk, and strangely A Flock of Seagulls. As an album, Evil Heat is not greater than the sum of its parts, and is certainly not the next Screamadelica. It would probably have been better released as a series of EPs. DF (Epic/Sony Music, www.primalscream.net)
BlondieThe Curse of Blondie
Blondie was once the biggest band in the world. A lot of their former fans may not realize that the band made a comeback a few years ago and continues to make worthwhile music. 1999’s No Exit, and 2003’s The Curse of Blondie show the band sounding more mature, but still rockin’ and sounding good. I’ve never been a fan of disco music but I have always had a soft spot for Blondie’s disco hit, "Heart Of Glass," because of the mixture of a catchy melody overtop an infectious dance beat. They have done it again with the song "Good Boys." As much as I didn’t want to like this song, darned if it didn’t get stuck in my head. More catchy dance floor fare gets mixed with some grungy guitar in the following track, "Undone," which, despite the modern production, sounds like it could’ve been one of the band’s hits in the ’80s. Come to think of it, many of the tracks on this disc fall into the same category ("Goldenrod" for example), or are reminiscent of good album cuts from earlier albums, with the biggest difference being modern production (purposefully distorted drums, heavy wall-of-sound guitars, blippy synthesizer noises, an occasional techno rhythm track).
Despite all the brilliance Blondie has shown throughout their career, every now and then the band makes something they should be embarrassed by ("Rapture," for example). Luckily there aren’t many moments like that on this latest disc, and most of them are examples of the band trying to experiment with different styles. The opening cut, "Shakedown," is probably the lamest cut, with Ms. Harry revisiting rap and dumb lyrics over top a lazy backing track. "Magic (Asadoya Yunta)" is another experiment that doesn’t work. Here the band takes a stab mixing Middle Eastern music with a heavy beat. Another one is "Last One in the World," which is a catchy song that unfortunately has been placed over an attempt at heavy metal. "Desire Brings Me Back" mixes tribal drumming with noisy, squeaky saxophone. Again, I admire the band’s attempts to branch out even if it doesn’t always work. One that does work is the final cut, "Songs Of Love," which mixes jazzy saxophone with a pretty, haunting melody and eerie atmospherics, resulting in a nearly seven minute hypnotic trance. Overall, once you get past the opening cut the rest of The Curse of Blondie delivers more good songs than clunkers, and is worth a listen for past, present, and future Blondie fans. SC (Sancuary Records, www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com)
The Primate 51-2-3-4-5-6-7-APE!
An entire rock & roll party crammed into a 22 minute CD! This is fun stuff! 12 songs mixing surf, garage, and beat, overflowing with upbeat fun energy. If you know and like the Young Fresh Fellows, especially their songs "Taco Wagon," "99 Girls," "Monkey See Monkey Do," or any of their other garage-beat songs, you will absolutely love The Primate 5. I added this CD to my iPod, and every now and then one of the songs will come up ("Poprox & Koke," "Speed Boat," and their cover of The Sonics’s "Leave My Kitten Alone"), I’ll have to check to see which Young Fresh Fellows album it’s from, only to find out its The Primate 5. If you still don’t know what that sounds like, imagine one of those cool, rockin’ combos in ’60s drive-in movies, but with more balls. The drummer is bashin’, the guitars are thrashin’, and the organ keeps everything drivin’. I can’t recommend this enough. SC (Dizzy Records / Hubba Hubba Recordings, email@example.comfirstname.lastname@example.org)
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